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Leave Santa alone

Sara Felsenstein | Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Here’s a Christmas surprise: some parents have argued that Santa — with his round belly and universal appeal — might be contributing to the rise in childhood obesity.

Santa’s entire lifestyle is physically inactive. He’s confined to his home in the North Pole, where it’s too cold to go for a jog outside or even walk his reindeer.

And while Mrs. Claus is an excellent cook, she’s no health freak, actually beating Paula Deen in a butter drinking contest on a visit to Deen’s show last month. “Sorry to burst your bubble, Paula dear,” Mrs. Claus said, “but we use even more butter up North.”

When Santa’s off delivering gifts, he sits in the sleigh while the reindeers do all the work. He then falls down chimneys, which takes zero cardiovascular effort. And the millions of cookies he consumes on Christmas Eve? Even the harshest New Year’s diet resolution can’t remedy that indulgence.

But Mrs. Claus said it’s “ridiculous” to say her husband is negatively affecting children’s health. “He’s been this way for years, and the obesity epidemic is very recent,” she said. “Plus it’s fundamentally wrong to think we will ever sauté tofu or grill Boca burgers.”

Mrs. Claus added that with toys and elves crowding the house, there’s hardly room for a few hand weights, let alone a treadmill. “To be frank, I’m glad he keeps the weight on,” she said. “It’s kind of endearing.” But does this excuse the unhealthy image he promotes to children? Yes, it does. Because “too many calories” is a phrase that kids are learning far too early. Because all they really need to know is “moderation.” Because obesity is often linked to stress or unhappiness. Santa makes kids happy. So why criticize the jolly old guy?

The “health” craze has gotten extreme. It wouldn’t be surprising if some parents now tell kids to leave a plate of carrot sticks and hummus on the fireplace next to a nice big cup of nonfat soy milk.

To be fair, we’re talking about a serious problem with serious consequences. Childhood obesity reached a staggering 17 percent in 2008, according to the Center for Disease Control. But blaming weight gain on “the holidays” isn’t going to solve anything. Let’s start recognizing the deeper problems pushing childhood obesity to that shocking statistic. Clearly, our country’s obesity epidemic is rooted in American culture, one overly focused on image as opposed to health.

Mrs. Claus said the American tabloids have been especially vicious to her husband, taking pictures from “horrendously unattractive angles.”

“It’s making him self-conscious, which is unhealthy itself,” she said. “I mean, it’s a tough economic time for weight loss. He’s been the same size for almost 200 years! Replacing all those suits would be insanely expensive.”

Contact Sara Felsenstein at sfelsens@nd.edu

The views expressed in the Inside Column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.